The council jumped on the bandwagon Tuesday, indicating during a study session that members were ready to consider projects to install artificial turf at Shoreline, Crittenden and McKelvey athletic fields. The council depended in large part on a staff report that found artificial turf comes out ahead of grass fields, although not for reasons one might expect.
For example, the annual hours of maintenance required for a natural turf field is lower than the artificial model, due the need to spend time clearing litter like chewing gum and sunflower seeds from an artificial turf field as well as leaf-blowing to clear other debris away.
And then there is the initial cost for artificial turf, which must be replaced every eight to 10 years, while natural turf is simply given a periodic rest so its grass can be resuscitated after a year of hard play.
But constant use is not a problem for artificial turf, and that is where it chalks up a significant edge over grass — a result of being available for much longer periods of time over the course of a year. The city staff says an unlit artificial turf field at Graham Middle School was in use 2,740 hours during the 2010-11 season for various sports, including soccer, football, lacrosse, rugby, field hockey and softball tryouts. This compares with unlit grass fields at Whisman and other elementary schools, which were in use an average of only 1,248 hours in the same period. In fact, the city estimates that putting lights on a synthetic field would bump its use up to 3,200 hours a year, far more than any other scenario.
The council also took comfort in another section of the report, which found that injuries are no more likely on artificial rather than grass turf. And the so-called "playability" factor, or being able to use the field year round, even during wet weather, also came up in favor or artificial turf, which does not have to be sidelined for an annual "recovery period" like natural turf.
So by adding lights to a playing field of artificial turf, the city can nearly triple the use over an unlit grass field, which means the overall cost of operation is lower for artificial turf.
When all factors are considered, the city study found the cost per hour of use slightly favored artificial turf, $22 to $25, but even more important in our view is that artificial turf fields will provide far more playing time for the city's overworked athletic fields in the future. And this will only increase as lights are installed at more fields.
We suspect a lot of young parents will not relish the idea of their children playing on a rubber mat that can get hot in the summer and may bleed rubber crumbs all over their uniforms. But at this time, the city needs to get the most for its money, and artificial turf is clearly the most cost-effective surface for the city's new fields.